Dear Corporate Marketing People,
I get it. The Pride parade has a massive audience. Getting your name in front of that many people can boost your customer base and your recruiting efforts. Sponsor away.
But please do not cannibalize your company’s Diversity and Inclusion budget to do it, Because what you are doing is not allyship to the queer community.
Your willingness to slap your logo in 36 inch high letters onto a rainbow background and literally parade it on a sparkling float down a congested throughfare does not advance the LGBT rights movement. What it does is advertise for you. Your company is looking for a relatively immediate monetary return on this investment. It’s a fantastic way to spend your marketing dollars. It is not a way to spend your D&I budget, and doing so takes precious resources away from programs you could run to actually promote diversity and inclusion in your company and in your industry.
By sponsoring Pride, what you are doing is attending the birthday party of the LGBT rights movement. Let me tell you a story: it was the summer of 19691. The place was New York City2. At that time, very few places would do business with LGBT people, making it difficult and dangerous for LGBT people to congregate3. The exceptions were a few seedy bars that quickly became targets for police raids for bribe-hungry officers who would storm the bar, line up the patrons, arrest crossdressers, and sometimes extort the bar owners. On June 28, 1969, The Mafia-owned Stonewall Inn was the target of one such raid. And on that night, the patrons had had enough.
An enormous crowd led by trans women of color surrounded the police as they escorted Mafia members into their police wagons. But when police began roughly handcuffing/clubbing queer people, that crowd, led by trans women of color, fought back. They slung bricks through windows and tried to overturn police wagons. Violence broke out. The riots continued for several nights, followed by picketing, followed by pressuring lawmakers…followed, at long, long last, by change. The LGBT community gathers in June to celebrate those trans women of color who picked up bricks and demanded “No More.” It’s a joyous occasion, and thank you for coming, but your attendance at a community’s birthday party does not show solidarity.
1. So, for those of you who are counting, not that long ago. Legally sanctioned LGBT discrimination is not our distant past.
2. So not Bigotsville, Deep South. LGBT discrimination is not restricted to politically conservative places.
3. This is why it’s a big deal when the government says bakeries have the right to not bake cakes for gay weddings. Believe me, the LGBT community is not fighting to keep discriminatory bakeries in business. Rather, we’re looking at the past and noticing the social consequences of sanctioned commercial discrimination.
You know what shows solidarity? Showing up to a funeral. Let me tell you another story: it was the summer of 2016. The place was Orlando, Florida. It’s now legal for gay people to congregate, and a large crowd had assembled at the LGBT-friendly Pulse nightclub.
So a guy walked in with a gun and started shooting up the place. 49 people died.
What did your company do the Monday after that happened?
Did your managers make an effort to ask their LGBT direct reports how they were doing? Did the event get mentioned or memorialized at your company meetings and gatherings? Basically, did your company do anything besides ignore the fact that the whole thing had happened?
Because here’s the problem: in the tech community, most companies did not do a thing until and unless their very own LGBT employees either shouldered the burden themselves or, after a few days, called out the management on their silence.
You want to call your company ‘ally’? Reduce investment in places with discriminatory laws. Speak out against discriminatory legislation. Enact anti-discrimination clauses—with teeth—in internal hiring and promotion practices. And don’t nurse off your D&I budget for a dog and pony show at the Pride parade.
By the same token, do not use your D&I budget for rainbow shirts, hats, and other promotional memorabilia strategically distributed in the month of June.
Mobilize, not when your marginalized employees and customers are happy, but when they are sad. It is in these moments that there is a wrong to be made right.
Stop showing up to the birthday parties. Start showing up to the funerals.
For more on this topic, see the video on Allyship in Times of Crisis.